What Is Pleurisy? - Definition, Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

Instructor: Danielle Haak

Danielle has a PhD in Natural Resource Sciences and a MSc in Biological Sciences

What is pleurisy? Well, it's a condition that affects the lining of the lungs, and it can make breathing extremely painful and difficult. Read this lesson to learn what causes pleurisy, what the symptoms are, and how it's treated.

What is Pleurisy?

The pleura is a double-layered membrane that covers the lungs and the inside of the chest wall. Pleurisy is a condition where the lining of the lungs (or pleura) becomes inflamed due to infection or irritation. It may also be referred to as pleuritis.

It is the job of the pleura to moisten the lungs, so some fluid is necessary. As we breathe in and out, the lungs are able to slide off of the surrounding tissues. When the pleura become infected, the two layers of the membrane end up rubbing against one another every time the chest moves, causing pain and discomfort.

Pleurisy occurs when the pleura become inflamed.

Causes of Pleurisy

The most common cause of pleurisy is a viral infection. However, pleurisy can also be caused by infections of the lungs, like pneumonia or tuberculosis, as well as other diseases, injuries, or complications with medications. Pleurisy is usually a side effect of something else rather than a disease in itself.

Symptoms of Pleurisy

Now that we know what pleurisy is, as well as what causes it, we should talk about some of the possible side effects. Symptoms may manifest as sudden, sharp pains in the chest. Typically, these are only on one side of the body and will occur during some kind of activity that involves chest movement (breathing, coughing, etc.). The pain may also disappear when you hold your breath (when you're still, preventing the lining from moving). Sometimes, pain can also be felt in the stomach, neck, or even the shoulder, and often someone with pleurisy will try to breathe as shallowly as possible so that they move as little as possible.

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